Day Hiking Essentials Checklist: What To Bring on a Hike

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

There’s A LOT of gear you need to bring on a day hike, but at the most basic level it comes down to water, food, layers, first aid kit, and a backpack. Depending on your adventure, you may need more accessories like a GPS device, bug spray, etc., so keep reading to learn about everything you could possibly need to bring on your next adventure!

day hiking essentials what to bring hiking

As the sun emerges over the horizon and the birds begin their morning symphony, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as gearing up for a day hike. The rustling trees, winding paths, and breathtaking views make each step on the trail a memory in the making. However, it’s not just the landscape that ensures a successful and enjoyable journey, but also how well-prepared you are for it.

One question that every hiker, novice or experienced, should ask before venturing out is, “What should I bring on a hike?” The answer to this question goes beyond just lacing up a good pair of boots or carrying a water bottle. Proper preparation involves a comprehensive checklist that considers your safety, sustenance, and the unpredictability of Mother Nature.

Let’s explore a detailed day hiking essentials checklist, ensuring you have all the necessary gear, tools, and supplies for a memorable and safe hiking experience. From the essentials that belong in every hiker’s backpack to specific items tailored for your unique trail, this guide will prepare you for the amazing outdoor adventure that lies ahead.

The Complete List of Day Hiking Essentials

Here’s a comprehensive list of everything you could need for a day hike. This list is purposefully quite long and includes a variety of things you may or may not need for your specific situation. You should always have the 10 essentials on hand, but otherwise the rest is up to you!

  • Hiking Gear
  • Clothing
  • Footwear
  • Food & Water
  • Navigation & Gear
  • First Aid & Emergency
  • Health & Hygiene

Note: several of these cool pieces of gear made our list for the best gifts for hikers! Check it out if you want more inspiration for a gift.

Hiking Gear

Derek and his Osprey daypack.

A good day pack (like this Osprey Daylite Plus) will store all your necessary outdoor gear plus anything extra you plan on bringing. This includes water, food, extra clothing and layers, a GPS device, and more.

A typical day hiking pack should be somewhere around 20-40 liters depending on your needs. We mostly use our Osprey, which is 20 liters, but we also have a 40 liter pack for winter hikes and skinning that require thicker jackets and layers. If you’re going to be hiking in the rain or need to be prepared for rain, make sure your pack has a waterproof pack cover just in case.

Trekking poles aren’t required, but many hikers can take advantage of their benefits. We don’t always hike with hiking poles, but we do bring them along for strenuous all day hikes and they can a huge difference.

Clothing

What you wear is going to be one of the biggest things that can make or break your hike, so make sure you dress appropriately. This means checking the weather beforehand, ranging from several days before to the morning of your hike.

If you are stuck between long sleeve or short sleeve and either would be ideal for the weather conditions, that choice is personal preference. Some people like wearing long sleeves and pants for UPF and bug protection, while other like short sleeves and shorts for better breathability.

No matter the temperature, it’s always a good idea to avoid cotton clothing. Choose synthetic materials or Merino wool instead – they are better at wicking sweat and temperature regulation.

  • Sweat wicking shirt that’s UPF rated – long sleeve or short sleeve depending on weather and personal preference.
  • Moisture wicking under garments
  • Pants or shorts depending on personal preference and weather.

Weather Appropriate Clothing & Layers

Make sure your clothing is UPF rated for sun protection, especially if you’re going to be hiking in hot weather. If you are hiking in winter or cold weather, layer up accordingly and take advantage of the extra warmth of base layers paired with winter outer layers.

  • Rain jacket – always bring a rain jacket, even if it’s not supposed to rain. If anything, it’s a great insulating layer if you are exposed to wind. We highly recommend our Patagonia Torrentshell 3L for both men and women.
  • Rain pants – for extremely wet conditions.
  • Lightweight fleece or puffy jacket – for cool and cold weather only. Patagonia makes the best lightweight, packable puffy jacket with their Nano Puff for men and women.
  • Winter jacket and pants – waterproof layers for winter hiking only.
  • Long underwear or base layers under your clothing layers.
  • Gaiters for snowy conditions or for hiking trip that goes off trail.
  • Any extra clothes* you could possibly need.

Extra Accessories

  • Sunglasses* are must-have for most every hike. Make sure they’re sturdy. If you’re hiking near water like a lake or stream, considering using polarized glasses to help reduce glare.
  • Hat – a ball cap will keep the hair out of your eyes but a wide brim hiking hat will protect your whole head from the sun’s rays. In the winter, wear a beanie to keep your head and ears warm.
  • A bandana or Buff can function in many different ways and is a great piece of gear to always bring along. It can be worn on your face, neck, and head, and also works great as a cooling device when dipped it cool water and placed around your neck.
  • Mittens or gloves for cold weather. If it’s really cold, consider bringing along Hot Hands to keep your digits warm.

Hiking Footwear

Take care of your feet and they will take care of you. They’re required to get from point A to point B and require proper care while hiking. It’s personal preference whether you like boots or shoes more, but make sure you choose the right hiking shoes for your style of hiking.

A good pair of hiking shoes with the right socks will help you get to amazing view points like this!

Food & Water

Snacks are one of the best parts of hiking, which we jokingly call scenic snacking. Learn about the best hiking snacks and what to eat before a hike for proper fueling. If you’re going to be on the trail through a mealtime, bring food* that you can stop and eat – our go to lunch is a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich. Always bring more than you think in case of emergency, and know that you’ll probably burn more calories than you realize so it’s a good idea to bring extra food.

Water* can be in the form of bottle(s) or a reservoir in your backpack. A reservoir is usually sold separately but it’s worth it. It’s really easy to access, so it encourages you to stay hydrated. If you choose a water bottle, there are a few great options. You could go for something lightweight like a Nalgene, something insulated like a Hydro Flask Trail Series, or something that filters water like a Grayl GeoPress.

It’s essential that you pack more than enough for your hike plus some extra just in case. We also carry a lightweight filtration system so we can always get more water if we need some. Read on to learn more about how to treat water in the backcountry.

Navigation & Gear

Navigation* can mean a variety of things, but basically have a good idea of where you’re going and some type of device to help you get there and back.

  • Phone with directions. There’s several options for finding trails and we highly encourage you to use them. Some examples are All Trails, Gaia, Hiking Project, and Maps 3D Pro.
  • GPS and/or satellite messenger like the Garmin InReach Explorer. For most of these devices, you must pay for a monthly subscription in order to activate GPS texting and SOS capabilities. We use ours on every hike and always have an active subscription – it gives peace of mind to us and to our loved ones.
  • A compass* is one of the 10 essentials but it doesn’t have to be large. We have a little keychain compass although something more robust may be beneficial for longer day hikes or going off trail.
  • Map (digital or physical) – some apps like All Trails allow you to download offline directions for use in areas without cell service. If you haven’t hiked a trail before, we highly recommend using this function. For physical maps, National Geographic has an extensive collection of map packs for various locations, regions, and trails around the world.

Binoculars can be handy for bird watching or viewing anything from a distance.

Most people have a good camera on this phone nowadays, but it’s always fun to bring along a real camera and get some awesome shots. Don’t forget a tripod if you need one. We always bring along our GoPro, which is an awesome action camera that’s durable and has a long battery life.

Cell phone – who goes anywhere without one of these? If you’re concerned about battery life, bring a portable power bank to recharge your devices.

Bring along a knife or multi-tool* to have on hand as part of the 10 essentials.

First Aid Kit and Emergency

  • First aid kit* with blister treatment like Moleskin, duct tape, or Rock Tape. You should never let a blister get out of hand, so make sure you treat hot spots as they occur.
  • Lighter, matches, and fire starter* for emergency situations where you need to start and maintain a fire. Wolf and Grizzly makes and a great fire starter and spark ignitor.
  • Emergency shelter* for emergency use like this SOL Emergency Blanket. This should be small, lightweight, and only used for emergencies.
  • Head lamp or flash light plus batteries* just in case you are going to be hiking in the dark, even if it’s not on purpose. Night hiking can be a great alternative to summer hiking in the heat, and that definitely requires the appropriate lighting. Even if you don’t plan on being out after dark, stuff happens and you should be prepared just in case your hike takes longer than planned.
  • Bear spray is highly recommended when you’re in Grizzly Bear country like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. In black bear country, the regulations are a little different.
day hiking essentials what to bring hiking
We carry this First Aid Kit by Hart Outdoor. It’s perfect for a day hike.

Health & Hygiene

  • Hand sanitizer for after going to the bathroom and before eating.
  • Menstrual products (if needed) – just make sure you have a way to pack out any waste so you can follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
  • Any medicine you or your hiking partner(s) need. This includes prescriptions but also travel size portions of basic medicines like Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, and Dramamine.
  • Trowel and toilet paper or WAG bags depending on the area’s regulations for how to handle human solid waste. A trowel will let you bury your solid waste and maybe the toilet paper depending on local rules, or WAG bags are a safe way to pack out your waste in areas that are prone to contamination. Learn how to properly poop in the woods so you’re prepared for nature’s call.
  • A pee rag (like Kula Cloth) for women can be a lifesaver and is a great alternative to dealing with toilet paper when going #1.
  • Insect repellant* helps keep mosquitos away and can help prevent ticks as well. If you’re hiking in places that are well known for their ticks (especially Deer Ticks that carry Lyme Disease), wear long pants and tall socks. You could also treat your clothes with permethrin with Sawyer Insect Repellent if you are really concerned about ticks. We use Ben’s 100% Deet and carry the bottle with us on longer day hikes.
  • Sunscreen* should be applied before and during your hike to prevent unnecessary sunburn and subsequent dehydration. Make sure it’s at least 30 SPF or higher and is sweat-proof so you don’t have to reapply as often. We love carrying a face stick so we can reapply on the more exposed parts as frequently as needed.
  • SPF lip balm is great to have on hand at all times. Not only does it work like sunscreen but lip balm is a must-have on the trail. We love the flavors from this Sun Bum 3pack.
  • A lightweight microfiber towel could be a great add-on if you’re hiking to a swimming hole or waterfall. This is an especially awesome way to survive the dog days of summer while still getting outside!

*one of the 10 essentials that is recommended for every hike.

What to NOT Bring on a Day Hike

While this list is pretty exhaustive of stuff you should bring while hiking, there’s lots of things you shouldn’t bring as well. Here’s a list of things you should leave at home:

  • Valuables like jewelry, cash, and makeup.
  • Heavy items like heavy camera lenses and books that will place unnecessary strain on you and your backpack.
  • Dark clothing like black and navy. This will make the sun feel more intense.
  • Pets aren’t allowed on every trail, so don’t bring them in areas where they aren’t welcome. Some examples include most national park trails and some national forests.
  • Jeans aren’t meant for hiking so don’t wear them on the trail. Wear lightweight pants and shorts that are meant for athletic wear or hiking.
  • Not everywhere is drone friendly, so look at local rules before flying.

Final Thoughts

As we conclude our journey through the day hiking essentials checklist, remember that proper preparation is key to any successful hike. While it might seem daunting at first glance, each item on this list serves a crucial purpose in ensuring your safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment on the trail. And with time, packing will become second nature, as seamless as lacing up your hiking boots.

So, gear up, fill your backpack with all this essential day hiking gear, and step out into the wild. With the whispering trees as your chorus and the winding trails as your guide, let the adventure begin. Remember, every great hike starts with a single, well-prepared step. Happy hiking!

Why Trust Know Nothing Nomads?

Since 2017, Know Nothing Nomads has cemented itself as the “approachable experts” in everything camping, hiking, climbing, and adventuring in the Great Outdoors.

With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

We USE the gear we talk about. We’ve hiked 1000’s of miles. We have camped 1000’s of nights in the wilderness. We have sent hundreds of boulders and projects.

We don’t just know a few things about the outdoors — WE EAT, SLEEP, AND BREATHE IT.

We are not journalists from a magazine telling someone else’s stories from behind a computer. We are the ACTUAL outdoorsmen that those people write about. 

We are not a “gear lab” that runs tests on gear in life-like conditions. We are the seasoned, “trial-by-fire” experts who have taken the gear into the wilderness and USED IT. Read about our gear testing process here

We started Know Nothing Nomads to share our passion and expertise with our readers to inspire, educate, and enable you to explore the outdoors in the way that we have. And you will be more equipped and capable than ever before with the knowledge you gain here guiding you along the way.

And the best part? We are real people that LOVE our readers and this community. If you need anything or have a question about any of the things we have to write about, just reach out. Normally, one of us can respond within 24 hours, sometimes within minutes. THAT is the approachable expert.

You should also know that advertising does not influence our gear reviews in any way, shape, or form, and it never will.

While we always focus our attention on gear that stands out to us—sometimes we discover that things aren’t up to our standards. This is exactly why we will always talk about the downfalls and compromises that we find while we are testing anything (If we find any).

About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

2 Comments

  1. Office Relocation services in mancherial

    Excellent checklist! Your detailed guide ensures nothing is overlooked when preparing for a day hike. The emphasis on safety and comfort is appreciated. I’ll definitely refer to this checklist for my upcoming hikes. Keep up the fantastic work, and thanks for providing such a comprehensive guide!

    Reply
    • Derek Vitiello

      Thanks so much! Just trying to make it easier on you guys to get outside and enjoy the Great Outdoors!

      Reply

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